If you're preparing for deployment, you're likely dealing with a lengthy list of things to take care of before you go. Considering the mental and emotional factors that appear at a time like this, likely one of the last things you'd want to be thinking about is protecting your credit while you're away.
But armed with the right knowledge, this task – one that is undoubtedly essential whether you are gone for 3 months or 18 – doesn't have to take a significant amount of time or effort.
These tips will keep your credit and financial peace of mind intact so you can concentrate on the task at hand.
Step 1: Get your finances in order
Preserving your credit while on deployment involves a two-pronged approach: ensuring that all creditors and service providers are aware of your deployment status and bills are paid; and putting up safeguards to ensure that credit is not taken out in your name without your consent.
Start by getting your finances in order – pay any remaining balances, request a drop in coverage from your insurance company (temporarily eliminating collision and liability coverage can result in huge savings), and suspend your cell phone service by alerting your carrier of your deployment status (they are required to do so under the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act).
Tell your bank, credit union, credit card company, and any other service provider you can think of that you will be leaving. This will place them on alert from the get go and at least aide in tracking any suspicious account activity that may occur.
If you know that you won't be able to take care of any financial issues that may arise from where you will be – or even if you just aren't sure – consider giving general power of attorney or specific power of attorney to a trusted family member or friend. You are able to set an amount of time of the power of attorney to be in effect, and, with a specific power of attorney, list only the things that you would want that person doing on your behalf (i.e. paying bills, etc.).
Lastly, ensure that only the individual(s) you are trusting to take care of any financial issues know your account information, and ensure that usernames and passwords are not easy to guess.
Step 2: Check your credit
Know where you stand before you deploy by getting a copy of your credit report. You are entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting agencies, and reports can be requested at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Make sure you are aware of any negative marks, check for accuracy, and keep your report on file to refer to once you get back from deployment.
Step 3: Freeze your credit with an active duty alert
In order to keep anyone from opening accounts in your name while you're away, put an active duty alert on your credit report.
You can start the process by contacting one of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. You'll have to provide them with proof of your identity – passport, birth certificate, or government-issued ID. Once this is complete, they are required to contact the two other credit reporting agencies on your behalf.
By default, the active duty alert will remain on your account for one year (although you can end it sooner if your deployment is shorter than that), and in that time, creditors will have to go extra lengths to ensure that if anyone inquires about getting credit in your name, it is actually you.
Step 4: Find ways to lessen your financial burden
Avoid late payments or delinquencies that may result from a financial burden larger than you can bear by looking into the Soldiers' and Sailor's Civil Relief Act. This act will cap interest rates on loans or debt you accumulated before entering the service at 6% -- including mortgages, credit cards, etc.
If you are dealing with student loan debt, look into your options – you may be eligible for military deferment or loan forgiveness depending on your particular situation.
Step 5: Know where your mail is going
Lessen the chance for identity theft by opting out of junk mail and keeping companies from exchanging your information. That can be done on the DMAchoice website, although you should be aware that placing an active duty alert on your credit report will automatically opt you out of receiving credit card offers for two years (unless you choose to opt back in before that).
Make sure your mail is being sent to an address you trust and any personal information that is mailed will be attended to in a short time frame.
Step 6: Deploy with peace of mind
Taking care of a few key things before you leave will undoubtedly keep you from worrying about what you'll come home to once your tour is over and ensure that your credit is exactly as you left it – or, with any luck, just a little bit better. For more tips on protecting your credit score, check out our Credit Score resource center.